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The Medium is the Muse

In the Studio with Artist and Extension Instructor Pamela Smith-Hudson
Lisa Butterworth

Pamela Smith Hudson knows the power of a mentor. It was one of her painting teachers that connected her with Daniel Freeman, a master printmaker for Gemini G.E.L. who had printed for Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, and Jasper Johns. And it was Freeman who steered Pam to Johns’ work, introducing her to the medium that would become her muse—encaustic painting. “It’s steeped in antiquity but it’s very contemporary,” she says of the hot wax paint, which artists have been using since Greco-Roman times. “You can do translucent layers. You can paint realistically; you can paint abstractly. You can print. You can carve into it—it’s sculptural. There’s no other medium that you can do that with."

It might seem a far cry from microbiology, her first field of study at UCLA, before she moved to the World Arts and Culture department. But for Pam, everything can serve as inspiration, whether it’s chemistry (an interest her background in the arts materials world indulged) or punk (she sites bands like X, and the ’80s L.A. music scene as major influences). She calls it “Felix’s magic bag of tricks,” referring to the cartoon cat and his supernatural satchel. “You always have to keep it filled up with inspirations—music, art, dance, whatever it is,” she says. Her students play a vital role too. “As an artist, I could be in the studio all day working by myself. As a teacher, you are in this space where you are having this dialogue with other people, really helping them move their situation along, which helps you,” she says. “Teaching has expanded that magic bag of tricks. Felix opens that bag up and there’s everything in the world. To me that’s what teaching is about—pulling all that out and sharing and giving.”

Inspired to give encaustic painting a try? Pamela will be teaching her Encaustic Painting: The Basics and Beyond course this February through Otis College Extension as well as a one-day Encaustic Painting Workshop and Recycled Objects: Collage, Assemblage, and the Found Object.

Photo by Meiko Arquillos / Art Direction by Sheharazad Fleming